Las Vegas, NV—Air Force men’s basketball (14-16, 5-12 MW) loss 54-53 at UNLV (17-11, 6-10) in Mountain West play Friday night at Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV scored the go-ahead bucket on a offensive rebound by EJ Harkless with 1.8 seconds left in the contest.
Harkless led the Runnin’ Rebels with 23 points. He scored 21 of the Rebels’ 29 points in the second half.
For the contest, the Falcons shot 39% from the field. They stayed in the game by forcing 11 steals and 17 UNLV turnovers, which led to 19 transition points, the most in a MW game this season.
Air Force led for much of the first half and went to the break with a 26-25 lead. Despite shooting just 36 percent from the hardwood, the Falcons took advantage of nine steals and 12 UNLV turnovers. Air Force scored 13 points off turnovers in the opening half.
In the second half, it was a back-and-forth battle, Air Force had a three-point lead with 16 seconds left to play after Rytis Petraitis hit a pair of three throws to put Air Force ahead 53-50.
The Rebels then got a bucket from Shane Nowell with eight seconds left to pull to within one point. UNLV forced a turnover on the in-bounds pass. Harkless got to a missed Rebel shot at the cup and put it back in for the go-ahead score. After a timeout, Air Force were unable to get a shot off in time as the clock expired on a tough last-second loss.
Jake Heidbreder and Petraitis led the Falcons with 16 points. Heidbreder went 6 of 12 from the field, adding four three’s. Petraitis notched his sixth double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 boards.
David Muoka scored seven points while finishing 3 of 3 from the floor, and added five rebounds and three blocks. Nowell was 3 of 7 shooting (0 for 3 from distance) to finish with six points for the Rebels.
“Couldn’t be more proud of them for continuing to fight. Shows that the message got through. The hardest part about playing Air Force is having guys that haven’t seen it. There is really no way to truly simulate what they do.
“Different guys played to finish the game than may be normal, and guys made plays and didn’t quit. Jackie getting a hand on that pass was the only option we had left. The only chance we had to win the game was if someone got a deflection or a steal and he did that. Couldn’t be happier for the guys to get one to go our direction.” – UNLV head coach Kevin Kruger said.
UNLV will remain at the Thomas & Mack Center for its final regular-season home game of the season on Wednesday, March 1 against Utah State. The 8 P.M. game will also be Senior Night.